Left the Kingdom of Lesotho. Crossed the border back into South Africa. We’re en route to the Drakensburg mountains near Harrisburg.
It’s an easy travel day, even with the border crossing. Short que, little questioning, maybe a fatigued scan of our passports, and my group is stamped out and in in less than thirty minutes.
Unfortunately, I’ve realized I have no more blank pages in my passport. Even after having 48 pages added to it last year while working in Vietnam, it’s properly filled now. Too many countries give full page visa stickers, and too many border officials stamp less than judiciously on any bare page, so I’m in a fix.
I begin leading the new Grand Africa tour in Kenya in three weeks, and will require a full page for Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda’s shared East African (EAT) visa. At the moment I have no full free pages, and little free time, in any city, for longer than a couple days. I’ll have to fly into Nairobi or Lusaka early, pay a visit to my brethren at the U.S. Embassy, and get a new passport processed. Whilst refusing to turn in the old one.
I flip through the pages, making an inventory of visas and stamp-able space.
The first country it saw was Thailand in 2007, and the country I’ve seen the most. I count 28 Thai visas between 4 different border crossings in 9 years.
And never any issues. There was that one time crossing into Vietnam from Cambodia where I had to pay off the border official to let me in — a small rip on page 5 made my passport “invalid,” he said, and $15 restored its validity — but never any confiscations or losses or thefts. I am not ready to surrender it.
I sit and consider my options as we drive around the South African perimeter of landlocked Lesotho.
It’s a gorgeous drive.
Table top mountains amidst flat planes, somehow far greener than a couple kilometers west across the border in Lesotho. Plots of farmland with healthy cattle grazing. Sunflower fields. It reminds me of parts of America, a thought I’ve had about many of South Africa’s varied landscapes, and I sit thinking about how nice it is to feel at home a continent away.
Then Dave comes through the rabbit hole.
Between the passenger area and the front cab of the truck is a hole that allows the driver and tour leader to communicate with or migrate between front and back. The Mercedes Benz Actros 2546’s we drive have been custom built with these sorts of qualities. Three, 300-liter fuel tanks instead of one for 800km drive days without signs of petrol stations through Malawi, four extra batteries to keep freezers onboard operating, the carved out rabbit hole one passenger nicknamed “the womb.”
“Sarah. Timan,” pipes an enthusiastic Dave, my token Australian who I’ve had on tour since the start of the tour December 2nd.
“Are you up for some cherries? I saw a sign for a cherry stall two kilometers up the road. I love cherries. Can we stop?” Dave asks, his head poking through the front of the cab and his body hanging out the back.
A couple of notes about Dave. Dave is rarely seen without a sack of plums or a mango or kilo of fruit cocktail, accompanied by a liter of yogurt. He likes his fiber and his probiotics and I fully support his endeavors to stay stocked with both.
It’s one of the great parts of my job — I get to meet and learn about these characters of the world. Personalities fit for a screenplay. And then drive overland through Africa with them on a 34-seater truck, skydiving and whitewater rafting and stopping at cherry farm stalls along the way.
It’s a short drive day, something less than 250 km, so Timan, my driver, is fine with our cherry farm stall pit stop. And when we stop, it’s worth it. This group, now on the road for weeks, and some for months, could use a quick dose of an experience or two that would top a “Stuff White People Like” list (and it sort of does).
It’s a country farm store that sells overpriced but well-labeled and aesthetically pleasing jams and condiments. All cherry flavored. Room upon room are bookcases lined with cherry relishes, cherry candy, cherry vodka. Antique-esque tchotchkes. Plenty of gingham and repurposed wood pallets.
Donna and I taste test the cherry liquor samples available at the entrance while Dave searches for actual cherries.
“There are no cherries for sale,” Dave returns with confirmation. “Apparently it’s not the season. The season is July. But the ice cream is good.”
We end up having lunch at the cherry farm stall, Constantia Farms, est 1966, no cherries.
I try “Grandma’s Curry Jaffle with Banana Salad, Tomatos and Chutney,” because I’m in the mood for a surprise.
It turns out to be minced meat in a toasted circular envelope of bread with accoutrements.
In between wondering how I am to approach Grandma’s Curry Jaffle and its accoutrements, I marvel at the fullest, most groomed and gorgeous chickens we’ve seen in awhile.
After lunch, it’s back on the truck where tryptophan hits the group, and it’s a quiet ride into Drakensburg.
I spend my time researching lasagna recipes. It’s Swiss Anja’s last night on tour, so I’m making her favorite dish. When I reveal to the rest of the group it would be my first time ever making lasagna, I get looks of disbelief, then horror, then concern. I reassure them I will be meticulously referencing a Jamie Oliver recipe with a 4.5/5 rating from over 400 reviews. (They will end up questioning, at regular intervals, my cheese to lasagna sheet to meat ratios, and standing militant near the oven as it baked the entire time).
We get in by dusk, and I go to work on a red sauce.
The group pitches their tents and plans the next day’s hikes, just before a massive wind and rainstorm hit. Our tents are from one of Africa’s most durable suppliers, yet forceful gusts are blowing them across the lawn. I can’t find our tent pegs so I end up handing out camp ovens and water jugs and cast iron skillets to the group to use as weights.
Between securing tents, trips to the bar to buy rounds of Savanna ciders and my first attempt at making lasagna in the outdoor communal kitchen, we all end up drenched, sitting at dinner dripping wet. But I see only happy faces: it’s been less than ten minutes, and the lasagna is almost gone.
And I know it’s the lasagna, because it can’t be the cherries.